As we march from birth to death, reading books, developing friendships, making countless stupid decisions, we build up certain instincts about human behavior: what’s rational and what’s irrational; what’s good and what’s evil. Our civilization on a macro and micro level has seen a lot of growth in the amount of rational and moral deliberation that precedes action. Evolution of thought through religion, then philosophy, and finally through science has helped frame our deeply emotional and judgmental monkey brain.
Still, it’s clear that it’s possible to whip up mass hysteria, where thousands if not millions of people believe something without any grounding in verifiable truth, but simply because “everyone else knows it is true”.
Salem witch trials is a favorite example of this for me, where (in America of all places) a couple hundred women were arrested and about 20 executed for practicing witchcraft. Of course, a lot of “evidence” was provided. “Evidence” in support of a claim it seems is something that’s easy to conjure up when the crowd is yearning for the claim to be true. In more recent times, the McCarthy hearings stink to me of the same mass hysteria. Everyone you disliked was clearly a communist.
This brings me to the topic of steroids, and the news of the day that Lance Armstrong is to be striped of his seven Tour de France titles after the “U.S. Anti-Doping Agency published a 1,000-page report last week that said the American took part in and organized an elaborate, sophisticated doping scheme on his way to his unrivaled success”.
Lance Armstrong did not admit to any accusations. He simply declared that after years of fighting charge after charge, he is fed up, and wants to move on. There is a large amount of testimonies from people accusing Lance of doping. But it’s very important to me that there is not a single piece of direct clinical evidence. In fact, he has passed every one of hundreds of tests given to him over the years. Where are the positive tests? They either don’t exist, or if you believe the many accusers, they were covered up.
I have seen people from all walks of life make declarations that a huge fraction of athletes in professional sports use steroids. I very VERY rarely hear those statements criticized. In fact, the most common response is “well, duh, of course!” Are there communists out there? Yes. Are there “witches” out there? Yes. But just because you have 10 guys pointing and crying “witch” doesn’t make it so.
I see this as an extension of a conspiracy culture that believes in UFO’s and doesn’t believe that we landed on the moon. Perhaps that’s why I get so upset when people accuse random athletes of using steroids just for the hell of it. It reminds me how little people care about science, math, history, and philosophy, relative to latest dramatic flavor of witch hunt and conspiracy theory.